During NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day 2010, young people asked a lot of great questions. One really basic question came from a student in Pennsylvania: Why do people take drugs?
While the specific answer may differ from person to person, some common reasons are that people think they will feel good, forget their problems, perform better, or fit in.
Drugs may have these effects at first, but they do not last, at least not like the long-term negative consequences can. Here are some “reality checks” on common reasons people have for doing drugs:
“Drugs help me feel good.” Most abused drugs produce intense feelings of pleasure. This initial sensation of euphoria is followed by other effects, which differ with the type of drug used. For example, with stimulants such as cocaine, the “high” is followed by feelings of power, self-confidence, and increased energy. In contrast, the euphoria caused by opiates such as heroin is followed by feelings of relaxation and satisfaction.
Reality check: While a drug-induced high may temporarily boost your mood, the effect doesn’t last long. Before you know it, the same old worries return, and, in fact, the after-effects of the drug may leave you with additional physical or emotional symptoms. Headaches, nausea, and feeling “down” are common side effects for many people. Withdrawal can be quite painful—physically and mentally.
“Drugs help me feel better.” Some people who suffer from social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and depression start abusing drugs in an attempt to lessen feelings of distress. Stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or in relapsing to drug use for people recovering from addiction.
Reality check: Some prescription medications can help lessen anxiety- or stress-related problems for a person suffering from a mental health problem that has been diagnosed by a doctor. These medications should only be taken as prescribed by a doctor and used under a doctor’s care. The “high” caused by illicit drugs like marijuana or cocaine may be just a temporary mask over your problems and will not make you feel better in the long run. In fact, illicit drugs may cause you even more stress, anxiety, and problems.
"Drugs help me perform better.” The increasing pressure that some people feel to chemically enhance or improve their athletic abilities or performance in school can prompt them to start or continue drug abuse.
Reality check: So-called “performance enhancing” drugs, like steroids, actually have serious side effects. Men may develop breasts, and women may acquire some male characteristics like a deeper voice and increased body hair. Some people may abuse stimulants to increase their alertness, but dangerous side effects like irregular heartbeat, high body temperatures, and the potential for heart failure or seizures make this a bad bargain.
“Everyone’s doing it.” Teens are particularly vulnerable to trying drugs because of the strong influence of peer pressure; they are more likely, for example, to take part in risky behaviors because they assume that their peers are also doing it.
Reality check: The annual Monitoring the Future survey, which measures drug abuse by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders and their attitudes towards drugs, show that nowhere close to a majority of teens are abusing drugs (PDF, 317 KB).
The bottom line?— knowing more about the specific negative effects of drugs on your brain and body can help you think twice before you act.
At NIDA's last Drug Facts Chat Day, Razorfang asked this question:
"can you get viruses from drugs?"
The answer to this might surprise you. Although you can't get viruses directly from drugs, using drugs can increase your chances of catching a virus like HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). In fact, behaviors associated with drug abuse are one of the biggest factors in the spread of HIV across the US.
That's because drugs can mess up your judgment and lead to bad decisions—bad decisions like unsafe sex. And risky sex can lead to more than pregnancy. It can also lead to becoming infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted viruses.
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “hbishop” asked:
Can a baby die from drugs that a pregnant mom is using?
To answer your question, it is possible. As one NIDA scientist put it, “We know that drugs of abuse can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. So, drugs used by the mother definitely can affect the baby’s health and can even cause long-term harm many years later. That is why doctors recommend that pregnant mothers not smoke or use alcohol or other illicit drugs.”
Anything a pregnant mother puts in her body the baby also takes in. Exposure to different drugs can harm the baby in many different ways. Like—
Smoking during pregnancy can cause slowed fetal growth, decreased birth weights, and even behavioral problems.
Drinking alcohol while pregnant can cause fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). Children with FAS may be born small; have problems eating, sleeping, seeing, and hearing; and have trouble learning and getting along with others. NO amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy.
Using cocaine and marijuana during pregnancy can lead to children having attention, language, and learning problems, as well as behavioral issues. Mothers who use alcohol, tobacco, or any illicit drug are setting their children up for potential lifelong problems or even death. The best thing a pregnant mom can do is talk to her doctor about which foods to eat and vitamins to take to make sure her child gets a healthy start.
Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At our last Drug Facts Chat Day, Livelaughlove94 asked:
"Do many kids in high school do drugs?"
The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future Study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that only about 3 percent, or 3 in 100 teens have used cocaine or Ecstasy in the last year, and only about 1 in 100 used methamphetamine. That's not a lot. Teens also said they were smoking a lot less now than teens used to smoke in the '90s—like 3x less if you're a 10th grader. So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. About a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF, 971.57KB).
So, to answer your question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. So even though it may seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.
For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future Study, feel free to browse an overview of the results.
In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, freeman-jones of Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, Maryland asked:
Can taking Ritalin help you if you have not been prescribed Ritalin?
Ritalin is a drug used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and is classified as a stimulant. The term stimulants can be used to refer to any number of drugs, including prescription drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin’s scientific name) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).
People diagnosed (by a doctor) with ADHD can benefit from these drug when they’re used as prescribed. However, teens with an ADHD prescription are sometimes pressured by friends to share some of their pills because they think the pills will help them focus or stay alert or ace an exam.Trouble is, when you take a pill that’s been prescribed for someone else’s weight, symptoms and body chemistry, or take more than the right dose for your own body, it can bring on more harm than good. Like changing your mood in ways that you can’t control, or raising your blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. And when the effects wear off, you might feel extreme fatigue and maybe even depression.
Better than borrowing someone’s prescription pills is GETTING SLEEP. It’s safe and easy and will help you learn and stay mentally and physically alert. Maybe that’s why sleep is such a major part of our lives. Get it for free now (ok, wait ‘til bedtime).
The Internet is teeming with blogs about everything from food to shopping to high-tech gadgets. Anyone and everyone can start a blog, and while many bloggers try their hardest to get the facts right, mistakes do happen. When considering a post about a new fashion trend, that may seem harmless; but what about blogs that include information about prescription drug abuse or the effects of inhalants? In that case, wrong information can be dangerous—even deadly.
NIDA works hard to give teens accurate and reliable information on the Internet and encourages teens to ask questions about drugs and drug abuse. NIDA even sponsors a major Internet-based event every year called Drug Facts Chat Day where high school students from around the country can ask questions directly to NIDA experts.
Also, you can always ask questions here, in the SBB comments. Recently, SBB received a bunch of interesting new comments on last year’s post about NIDA’s National Drug Facts Week, “Get the Download on Drugs: Help Us Shatter the Myths.” Apparently, a teacher assigned students to read this blog post to help them answer particular questions.
Here are some sample comments (we didn’t edit these at all):
Question 5 - The best way to get the message out to teens is on TV because not all teens have a computer or an account, but most teens have a TV and watch it all the time at home. You can have a TV show where the they dedicate an episode to not doing stuff like, smoking and drinking!!
@muellerperiod5: Question 4- If an athlete uses steroids to improve they’re performance, I do think that is cheating. Because, they would be stronger than everyone else, it just wouldn’t be fair, that person could hurt others, and they would make the people who aren’t on steroids feel bad because they wouldn’t be doing as well as the person who is. Using steroids, or any other type of drug, comes with consequences. I think that the athlete who is using steroids should be kicked off the team as their consequence. I bet someone who doesn’t use steroids would do even better than the person who is.
Question 5 - I think Social Networks would be the best way to get the message out to teens. I think that because, most kids are on Facebook and Myspace and Twitter or just on the computer. Most teens wouldn’t pay attention to adults when they say drugs are bad, but since it’s on Facebook or Twitter, they would be more likely to pay attention.
SBB is proud to provide this science-based blog (and resource!) for teens.
So, how can you tell if the Web sites you visit offer reliable information? To answer the questions, you can either write your response in the “Leave a Reply” box below, or send us a message. We read all of your comments and feedback.
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, soccerstar0 asked:
“On average how old are kids who start using drugs?”
Research shows that drug use often starts in the teen years. You might have heard that, but here’s something you may not know—the science shows that the younger you are when you start using drugs, the more likely you are to get addicted later on. Doing drugs can also cause problems with friends, in sports, and in school.
Let’s face it—when someone tells us not to do something, that sometimes makes it seem more exciting. But drugs can really do some not-so-exciting things to your body. NIDA researchers discovered that drugs can literally change the way your brain works. And since your own brain won’t finish growing until you’re 25, you probably don’t want to mess with that process by doing drugs.
Many teens have questions about drugs. On Drug Facts Chat Day, NIDA scientists get to listen in and answer these questions from students all across the country.
Here’s one from “zippy do da” from Kingswood Middle School in New Hampshire:
Why do teens who smoke think they are so cool?
There could be many reasons why teens who smoke think they’re cool—maybe their friends smoke, maybe their parents told them not to smoke, maybe they think it gives them an edgy look, or a temporary high. But the truth is, as far as your health goes—smoking is so not cool.
And who defines cool anyway? What’s cool to one person may not be cool to another. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, coolness is an individual decision. Not everyone thinks that doing something illegal or unhealthy because your friends are doing it is cool. Lots of teens would say its cooler to hold a pen, paintbrush, or drum stick between your fingers, instead of a cigarette.
When our parents were younger, many of them thought “the Fonz” from the hit TV show Happy Days was the epitome of cool. Pretty dorky now.
Today it seems like a lot of teen smokers are figuring out that smoking is not very cool at all. How do we know? Because according to a 2007 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of all high school smokers are actively trying to quit. And, according to the recent NIDA-funded Monitoring the Future Study of 8th, 10th and 12th graders, smoking among American teens is at an all time low.
Coolness is a funny thing. Some things are cool one year (or one minute!), and not the next. Other things are cool no matter how much time has passed. What’s cool is also influenced by your gender, age, where you live, and, most of all, by who you are. Check out how one high school student examined the cool factor as a science fair project—it even won her a cool prize. But don’t take our word for it—you decide.
In communities across the country, students, teachers, and parents joined forces in NIDA’s second annual National Drug Facts Week from October 31 to November 6, 2011.
From Knoxville, Tennesee, to Siskiyou County in northern California, to La Plata, Maryland, teens gathered in school and neighborhood events to get real about drugs and addiction. In addition, teens from 71 schools from coast to coast participated in an online Drug Facts Chat Day event and submitted more than 10,000 questions to NIDA scientists.
Following are some examples of other events held around the country in honor of National Drug Facts Week.
Creating PSAs in Tennessee
In Knoxville, TN, the Metropolitan Drug Commission produced a series of public service announcements (PSAs) that Comcast Cable will air for free throughout the fall and winter.
Five teens posed questions to experts on camera to help shatter the myths about alcohol and other drugs. Topics were chosen based on the top five most commonly abused drugs in Knox County, where Knoxville is located. Those drugs are marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, tobacco, and inhalants. View the PSAs:
A Painted Bridge and Real-Life Stories in California
Students from a leadership class at Mt. Shasta High School in Siskiyou County, CA, painted a “grafitti bridge” to honor those who had lost their lives to drug addiction. The goal of the project was to encourage teens to get the facts about drugs, tobacco, and alcohol by visiting the NIDA for Teens Web site.
In addition, a panel of speakers spoke to teens about how their lives were affected by drug addiction and the toll it took on themselves and their community. Leon, for example, crashed his pickup truck while driving drunk 6 years ago and was in a coma for 9 days. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that left him with speech, coordination, and memory deficits.
The Siskiyou County Office of Education and the local public health department also sponsored a poster contest entitled, “It's a Fact.” They received close to 500 student entries. A kindergartener from Butteville Elementary School, was one of 16 winners. In all, 800 posters were professionally printed and posted around the county.
Facing the Facts at Juvenile Drug Court in Maryland
The city of La Plata, MD, applied the messages of National Drug Facts Week in a completely different way.
A crowd of more than 50 family members came to witness as two teens “graduated” from Juvenile Drug Court and had their records cleared. The teens participated in therapy and counseling in an intervention program designed to offer treatment and a chance for a clean start for nonviolent offenders who are chronic drug users between age 14 and 17.
Invited speaker Stanley Goodall, a counselor who worked with both graduates, recalled the changes that the two teens experienced and how their lives are much different now than when he first met them. “We thought the young man would be a casualty,” Mr. Goodall said. But now, with a clear record and a strong sense of purpose, he intends to join the U.S. Marine Corps.
What ideas do you think would work to share the facts about drugs and addiction at your school or in your neighborhood? What would inspire you to host an event next year so that you can make a difference?
Read about more 2011 National Drug Facts Week events.
November 10th is NIDA's annual DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY! In case you haven't heard of it—more than 40 NIDA scientists and science writers sit down at computers and answer questions sent in live from high school students from all over the country. Last year, 11,000 teens sent in their questions! To actually ask a question on the CHAT your school has to register in advance. But even if you haven't registered, there's a lot of interesting stuff to read by just observing Chat Day, on November 10, 8 am to 6 pm EST. You'll see factoids and quizzes (test your "drug IQ") and links to other sites. And if you are curious to know what kids ask about, the transcripts from the 2007 and 2008 CHATS are also posted.
What do you think the most popular questions were? Last year teens asked a lot of questions about marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol (yes alcohol and cigarettes are drugs too). They also wanted to know what the "worst" drugs are, and what happens if someone who's pregnant uses drugs.
There were also lots of questions about the effects of drugs on the body, and teens asked how they could find help for friends who had problems with drugs. The most important thing to know about NIDA's DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY is that the scientists just want to give teens the scientific facts about drugs—no lectures.
So if you're near a computer (which you are if you are reading this!) take a look at NIDA's DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY webpage. See if the question you would ask is being asked by someone else. And next year, ask your teacher to register, so your class can post questions directly to NIDA scientists!
Today marks NIDA’s fourth annual Drug Facts Chat Day! Beginning in 2007, NIDA scientists teamed up with a few high schools to create an online forum for teens to ask questions about drug abuse and the science behind addiction. This year, Chat Day is taking place during the first annual National Drug Facts Week, November 8–14—a whole week dedicated to shattering the myths about drugs and addiction. You can participate. Read on:
How to Get in on Chat Day
- Check to see if your school has preregistered for Chat Day. If your school has registered, you will be given an access code to log into the chat. Since Chat Day takes place completely online, anyone at a registered school can participate from any computer! The chat begins at 8 a.m. EST on November 9th and will stay open until 6 p.m. EST—there’s plenty of time to join in!
- Think of what you’d like to ask. NIDA scientists will be ready and waiting to answer your questions. Type a question about drug abuse or addiction into the chat box and a NIDA expert will be on hand in real time to answer it. If your question isn’t answered right then and there, it will be addressed after Chat Day is over and included as part of a transcript on our website. Here’s the one from last year. We might even post your question and our answer here on the SBB.
- Spread the word! Tell your friends and teachers to get involved with Chat Day and National Drug Facts Week. The more people who participate, the more myths can be shattered!
Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, “propofol” has been mentioned often in the news. The substance was found to be the cause of his death and was the center of the highly publicized trial of his doctor.
So, it’s no surprise there is a lot of curiosity about propofol. NIDA received questions about it during last year’s Drug Facts Chat Day.
During Chat Day, Cam from California asked about the basics—
Is propofol a drug?
Yes. Propofol is a common type of anesthetic—a drug that doctors use to “put people to sleep” for surgery. It is given to patients through an “intravenous drip,” (called an “IV” for short) that goes through a special needle into a patient’s vein, so the medicine goes directly into the bloodstream.
Doctors who give patients propofol are generally known as “anesthesiologists” and have special training. These experts set up the IV, make sure the patient is “sleeping” comfortably, and then carefully monitor vital signs (like heart rate, breathing, etc.) while the patient has surgery.
Doctors like using propofol because it leaves the body very quickly, which allows the patient to wake up after surgery more rapidly, without bad side effects. Propofol can be a useful drug when it’s given by people who are properly trained. But like many prescription drugs, it can be very harmful if used inappropriately. Propofol should be given only in a hospital setting where the patient can be closely monitored.
A Lost Legend
Michael Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication. Additional drugs found in Michael’s system were the depressants midazolam and diazepam, the painkiller Lidocaine, and the stimulant ephedrine. His doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of causing the singer’s death by giving Michael the propofol that caused him to stop breathing. By helping Michael abuse drugs—even if it was to “help him sleep”—he contributed to the loss of a legend. Michael’s untimely death was mourned by millions of people.
NIDA's annual DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY, held November 10, was a huge success. The computer-filled room where it happened vibrated with excitement, as more than 40 NIDA scientists eagerly tried to answer as many questions as they could. And questions they got. Teens from around the country sent in some 13,000 questions about drugs—wow, so nice to hear from you!
So what was different about Chat Day this year? Well for one, there seemed to be twice as many questions on marijuana. Maybe that's because the news lately is full of talk about marijuana (how confusing—some adults say it's bad for you, and others say it can be used as a medicine!). If you want to know how our scientists answered these questions, check out the CHAT DAY transcript, coming soon to http://www.nida.nih.gov/chat/.
What happens with the questions we didn't have time to answer? In the next few days, we will be reviewing all of the questions so we can learn more about what teens want to know about drugs. We're planning on adding what we find out to our teen Web site and we will blog more about it, too. If you think DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY sounds like fun, ask your school to sign up for next year. Schools will be able to register this summer. We'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, here's a list of some topics and the percentage of kids who asked about them this year.
30%: General questions (like "What's the worst drug?" or "Why do kids take drugs?")
20%: Marijuana 10%: Nicotine
8.5%: Illegal street drugs like cocaine, meth, LSD, PCP, and ecstasy
5.0%: How do I get help for a friend or family member?
< 3%: Steroids, Inhalants, Rx Drugs, Pregnancy (questions like "Are drugs bad for the baby?")
Ok, so what would you or your friends have asked about?
First off, big thanks to teens and adults everywhere who took the time during NIDA’s first-ever National Drug Facts Week to learn new facts about drug abuse.
After a week full of activities around the country, what can teens take away?
At the center of the week was our annual “Chat Day,” which gave high school students around the country a chance to ask NIDA scientists their questions directly…we got more than 5,000! Here’s a sample?
Q: Does genetics play a big role in addiction?
A: That’s a sophisticated question….I sense future scientists. Research suggests that about 50-60% of the risk for drug addiction is due to your genes, and that about 40% is due to environmental influences (like access to drugs, media influences, drug use among friends).Scientists are now starting to identify some of the exact genes that cause this influence. That is giving them clues to how to develop new medications to help addicted people recover.
Of course, no matter what your genes are, you won't get addicted if you just don't take drugs.
Q. Does every teen take drugs?
A. You might think so from watching tv and movies, but you would be wrong. Most teens do NOT take drugs. In 2009, little more than a third of 12th graders reported using an illegal drug in the past year, mainly marijuana. Fewer 10th graders and even fewer 8th graders reported using an illegal drug. It’s a good question you ask, because many teens tend to want to do what other teens do, and if they think everyone else is using, that might influence them to use. That would be making two mistakes.
Q: How can prescription drugs be fatal to us?
A. Pretty much by how they can affect blood flow in your body (like blood vessels getting narrower), or how the brain tells the heart to beat and the lungs to expand and contract. Several medications are ”depressants,” and combined with other drugs, especially alcohol, can shut down that breathing machinery. That’s why these kinds of drugs have warning labels. The key is to only use prescription medications under the care and direction of your doctor. They can be life-saving that way. The problems come when you abuse them or take someone else's prescription.
Q: How does marijuana get you high specifically
A. The exact nature of what ”high” is still up in the air, but here is some of what we know. The active ingredient in marijuana is THC, which causes cellular reactions in the brain that ultimately lead to the high that users get. THC acts on what are called “cannabinoid receptors,” found in parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thoughts, concentration, time perception, and coordinated movement. This is why some 'weed' smokers experience problems with memory, concentration, and coordination. And some marijuana users, about 9%, get addicted.
Know the Facts, Think before You Act!
Teens and adult sponsors organized events to shatter drug myths from California to Florida to Maine and everywhere in between. At Rockville High School, in Rockville, Maryland, teens produced this public service announcement advertising National Drug Facts Chat Day. http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/rockvillehs/Ramvision/index.html
Other events included the following:
- The Boys and Girls Club’s family advocacy network in Sulphur Springs, Texas, hosted a symposium for parents, caregivers, and youth of all ages, giving them the chance to ask questions about drugs.
- YOUth CARES of El Cajon Valley, California, shared drug facts during morning announcements for middle and high school kids and sponsored a carnival for middle school, high school, and college students. One review called “a great event,” adding that it was “encouraging to see so many teenagers taking action against substance use, and promoting health and fun!”
- NIDA held a CyberShoutout to kick off National Drug Facts Week. All over the country, people blogged, tweeted, and posted to Facebook in support of “shattering the myths” about drug abuse and addiction. Click here to see what people had to say!
This first-ever Drug Facts Week couldn’t have been such a success without your help! But we’ve only just begun: watch this blog for more facts, games, and quizzes to get the drug facts.
What do kids want to know about drugs if no one is watching them write the questions? See for yourself! NIDA's DRUG FACTS CHAT DAY transcript is now online. NIDA scientists and staff answered hundreds of questions from teens all over the country. You can read some sample questions below. (For the answers…click on this link to find the transcript).
casa grande mb - Casa Grande Union High School, Arizona: is it possible for someone to get in trouble if they just want to have fun?????????????
music - Dixie High School, Utah: How do you convince someone you love not to smoke without hurting their feelings?
annarules - Kingswood Middle School, New Hampshire: are drugs also associated with car accidents as much as alcohol is cause i would have thought drugs would have as much in the blame of it as alcohol? DO THEY PLAY AN EQUAL PART????????????????
tyelisha - Theodore Roosevelt High School, Ohio: Why do some people get addicted to drugs the first time they try them and other people are more resilient?
babylala - Einstein High School, Maryland: why do employers ask if you do drugs or not?
MUHS - Middlebury Union High School, Vermont: IS MARIJUANA REALLY A GATEWAY DRUG?
Fredresha B - Randolph Clay Middle/High School, Georgia: WHEN BEING IN A CAR WITH A PERSON SMOKING, AND YOU TAKE IN THE SMOKE. WHO GETS HARMED QUICKER, YOU OR THE PERSON SMOKING?
freeman-j - Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, Maryland: How can taking ritalin affect you if you have not been prescribed ritalin?
banger92 - Port Chester High School, New York: Is it better to smoke "light" cigarettes or regular cigarettes?
mooky - Benjamin Franklin Academics Plus, Pennsylvania: if you use drugs about 3 times a week does that necessarily mean your addicted to it?
By the way, if you participated in CHAT DAY, you can see if your questions got answered by doing a word search—look for your user name or your school's name.
As part of National Drug Facts Week, NIDA scientists host Drug Facts Chat Day, an all-day online chat. On Chat Day, students and teachers from high schools across the U.S. submit questions about drug abuse and addiction to NIDA scientists, who answer them in real time.
Chat Day creates a safe environment where students can anonymously ask questions about drugs that they may feel uncomfortable asking their teachers or parents. NIDA scientists are leaders in the science of drug addiction and can answer complicated questions that many Web sites and textbooks do not—like, “Is addiction genetic?” “How can I help a friend stop using drugs?” and “Why is it so hard to quit using drugs once you are addicted?”
Anyone can watch the 2013 Chat Day online, on January 31 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, by simply registering for the chat.
Even if you can’t participate in the live chat, you can still get answers to your questions. Submit questions to the Sara Bellum Blog at SaraBellumBlog@iqsolutions.com. Or, comment on this post and tell us your questions about drug abuse. You may see your question answered in a future SBB post.
Looking for answers today? Check out 2012 Chat Day’s questions and answers and the “Real Questions” section of the NIDA for Teens site.
Want the inside story on how Chat Day works? Check out this video.
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last “Drug Facts Chat Day,” “torgo” asked:
What made you guys (girls) want to research drugs?
As one NIDA scientist put it, “I have always been interested in biology and psychology, so I wanted to better understand the connection between the brain and the body. Doing research gives me the chance to unlock some of the mysteries of the brain. Like we now know our brains keep growing until we're in our mid-20’s—that’s a lot longer than what scientists believed before.”
So that research answered one question but opened up many more, like how do drugs affect a brain that isn’t fully developed? That’s what science is all about…asking questions and searching for answers!
And there’s still so much we don’t know. Maybe you will make a breakthrough discovery that will lead to cures for devastating brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or drug addiction.
If you’re interested in a career in science, maybe these tips will help:
- Start talking. Chat with your science teachers about your options.
- Do your own research. Visit the NIH website and look at the different kinds of research NIH scientists are doing. What grabs your attention? Why?
- Think about the future. Look into colleges with the help of a guidance counselor. Tell your counselor about your interests in science and research—they may know of the perfect program.
- Get experience. Once you’ve narrowed down your interests, try to get involved, volunteer at a science museum or create a science research club at school.
- Children whose parents abuse alcohol and drugs are more likely to have behavioral problems, which increases the risk of trying alcohol or drugs. They are also exposed to more opportunities to try these substances.
- Plus, children of parents who abuse drugs may inherit a genetic predisposition (or greater likelihood) for addiction—having an “addictive personality,” so to speak.
This post, which originally appeared on SBB in October 2009, answers one of the most common questions NIDA hears from teens. The stats here come from the 2012 Monitoring the Future study.
Lots of teens are asking questions about drugs. That's why each year NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
During one Drug Facts Chat Day, ims604cb asked:
“How many teens are on drugs?"
The best way to find out if high school kids do drugs is to ask them. That's exactly what NIDA does every year in its annual Monitoring the Future study. This survey of more than 46,000 teens—8th, 10th, and 12th graders to be exact—showed that 13% of 8th graders, 30% of 10th graders, and 40% of 12th graders say they have used a drug at least once in the past year.
So, what is the most commonly used illegal drug?—Marijuana. More than a quarter of 10th graders say they have tried it in the past year. You can see the numbers for each major drug type in this report (PDF‒2.25 MB).
But, to answer the question, not that many kids in high school do drugs, although marijuana is the most common. Even though it may sometimes seem like "everyone's doing it," know that not everyone really is.
For more details on specific results from the Monitoring the Future study, browse an overview of the results.
In a recent Drug Facts Chat Day, Jiacalone_01 from Cashmere High School in Washington asked: What percentage of 9th graders smoke marijuana?
Most teens are not smoking marijuana. We know this from asking teens themselves. How? Through the annual survey of teen drug use called Monitoring the Future, which surveys 8th, 10th, and 12th graders about their drug use and attitudes. The survey found that about 12% of 8th graders reported marijuana use in 2009 compared to about 27% of 10th graders and 22% of 12th graders. The survey also showed that marijuana use has declined steadily since the mid-1990s until about 2002. Since then, it’s kind of leveled off, so the people here at NIDA are trying to figure out why, and how to get things back to a downward trend.
One reason for the leveling off may be something else the survey found—which is a change in attitudes among teens toward marijuana smoking—that they consider it to be less harmful than they did in years past.
The thing is, marijuana is more than just a mix of dried leaves from the cannabis sativa plant. It actually contains a chemical called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, along with about 400 other chemicals. Although many of these can affect your health, THC is the main psychoactive (i.e., mind altering) ingredient. (In fact, marijuana’s strength or potency is related to the amount of THC it contains, which is something people who use marijuana won’t know since it is an illegal substance.)
THC alters the way your brain functions, which can be bad news for teen brains since they’re still developing. For example, THC can disrupt what goes on in your hippocampus, which can lead to problems with learning and memory—since that’s what this brain area gets involved in. Disrupting its normal functioning can lead to problems studying, learning new things, and recalling recent events. You can read more on marijuana here:
- Marijuana: Facts for Teens
- Facts on Drugs: Marijuana
- NIDA for Teens: Marijuana FAQ
- Marijuana: Topics in Brief
PS—Some people argue that marijuana is not addictive. Wrong! In 2007, the majority of youth (age 17 or younger) entering drug abuse treatment reported marijuana as their primary drug abused. We admit that, we still don’t know everything that marijuana use does to teens. But we do know that adolescents’ brains are still growing and changing—so is it really worth the risk?
Questions about drugs? Lots of teens are asking. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last Drug Facts Chat Day, “Boxy” from St. Henry District High School in Kentucky asked:
What are designer drugs?
The term “designer drugs” refers to drugs that are created in a laboratory (typically, an “underground,” or secret, illegal lab). A designer drug is created by changing the properties of a drug that comes from a plant—such as cocaine, morphine, or marijuana—using the tools of chemistry. The resulting “designer” drugs typically have a new, different effect on the brain or behavior.
Examples of Designer Drugs
MDMA (Ecstasy), ketamine, GHB, Rohypnol, LSD (acid), and methamphetamine are some examples of designer drugs. These drugs may also be referred to as “club drugs” because of their use in night clubs.
Since many designer drugs are created in illegal labs, their ingredients and potency (how strong they are) vary a lot, making it nearly impossible to know what is actually in them or what they can do to you. For example, Ecstasy tablets are often contaminated with other things, like ephedrine (used to treat allergies and asthma), ketamine (an injected anesthetic given for minor surgeries), and methamphetamine (another illicit drug).
It is not surprising that these unknown mixtures can cause dangerous side effects, such as seizures, memory loss, coma and even death.
Find out more about club drugs.
At NIDA's last Drug Facts Chat Day, mendythepenty asked this question:
"is it possible that you do so much drugs, that your brain can change into the size of a pea?"
When you do drugs, your brain changes. According to NIDA scientists, the brain weighs about three pounds and doing drugs, even for the first time, can change how our brain looks and works. Assuming you're serious, does this literally mean it can shrink to the size of a pea? Probably not, but the fact that drugs can change your brain, never mind damage or kill brain cells, is enough for me! I want to be smart. To me, smart means cool, and it means healthy. And healthy means being able to live the life you choose, whether that's trying out for the basketball team, skateboarding with friends, or going to the school dance.
At NIDA’s Drug Facts Chat Day, we get great questions from teens all over the country about drugs. Here’s one from “hhentze,” representing Junction City High School in Oregon:
What drug is most often used by teens in the USA?
Every year since 1975, the Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed teens to better understand their drug use rates, attitudes, and beliefs. Looking over the past 10 years, data show that more and more teens are saying no to drugs, period. They are not even trying them once.
Still, to answer the question, statistics from 2009 (PDF, 362.76KB) show that the drug most often abused by teens in 8th, 10th, and 12th grades is alcohol, followed by marijuana. The third most abused drug varies by grade—for 8th graders, it’s inhalants. For 10th and 12th graders, it’s Vicodin (a prescription medication for pain). Here’s a little more info:
So, even though alcohol might be the drug most abused by teens, the good news is that the number of teens who report drinking in the last 30 days has gradually declined by as much as 40% over the past 35 years. You go, Gen Y!
Seems marijuana use is slowly creeping upwards after a steady decline that lasted almost 10 years. What’s up with that? The answer may have to do with the fact that young people are seeing marijuana as less risky than before and are more accepting of its use in general.
- Inhalants and Vicodin
With both inhalants and Vicodin, the rates of abuse among teens are about the same as they have been for the past 2-3 years. That’s pretty positive, especially since the study only recently started looking at trends in prescription drugs.
Carry out your own mini-study and see what drugs friends, relatives, or teachers think are most often abused by teens. Feel free to share what you found out with us in the comments. Spread the word, and help set the record straight.
At NIDA’s last Chat Day, we got this question from a high school student:
”Why do people scratch a lot when they are high on heroin?"
A NIDA scientist responded that he had done years of research on this topic. He explained: “Heroin activates connections in the brain called opioid receptors. These receptors then activate fibers that transmit itch information (aka ‘pruritus’) to the brain. Thus, heroin users feel itchy. Good question.”
But before heroin can activate opioid receptors, it has to enter the blood stream and reach the brain. So how does this happen?
People usually inject heroin into their blood stream with a syringe. Soon afterwards, the heroin crosses the “blood-brain barrier”—a protective membrane that separates circulating blood from brain fluid in the central nervous system. Once in the brain, heroin is converted to a chemical called morphine and binds rapidly to the opioid receptors already mentioned. These receptors recognize chemicals affecting pain, like morphine.
Heroin users typically report feeling a surge of pleasure, or a “rush,” which makes sense because heroin enters the brain so rapidly. This quality also makes it extremely addictive. Along with the rush usually comes a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs, which may be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and, of course, severe itching. Also, since heroin is a depressant, it clouds your thinking and can slow—or even stop—breathing.
Because heroin is mostly sold on the street, users can’t be sure of the purity (or strength) of the drug they’re taking. Also, because it’s so addictive, they may crave bigger and bigger amounts of the drug to get the same rush they got the first time—which often leads to overdose and death.
What are your biggest questions about drug abuse? What words come to mind when you think about addiction?
We took the transcript from the morning session at NIDA's 2008 Chat Day and used it to make this "word cloud." The biggest words are the words that were used most often in the conversation between teens and NIDA scientists—like drugs, school, and high. There were lots of questions about specific drugs, including marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, and also about how to find help if you're worried that you or a friend might have problems with drug abuse or addiction. If you look closely you can spot NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow, who was answering questions online with kids, and some schools that participated in Chat Day, like Rockville High in Maryland and Yonkers High in New York. It's kind of cool to see a conversation between scientists and teens all summed up in a picture like this! You can read frequently asked questions from NIDA's Chat Day. And you can make your own word cloud pictures using any website or text at www.wordle.net.
Lots of teens have questions about drugs. Each year, NIDA scientists spend a whole day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At the last “Drug Facts Chat Day,” a teen from Lima Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio asked:
What should I do if one of my friends is using drugs... What should I tell him to convince him to stop?
There are many ways to help and support your friend, but in the end, it will need to be your friend’s decision. And just by asking us this question, it’s easy to see you are a good friend. Sometimes our friends won’t appreciate advice they don’t want to hear—especially if they are using drugs—but telling the truth to help someone close to you is part of being a real friend, even when it’s hard to do.
Here’s some ideas of things to say and do to help:
What To Do:
- Find out if your friend is experimenting with drugs, or if he may be addicted. Neither one is good—but you may need more support if your friend is addicted.
- Understand that addiction is a brain disease. Just like you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to heal herself without the help of a doctor, the right treatment, and support from family and friends, you can’t expect your friend to heal herself.
- Know that it is never easy for anyone to admit that they have a drug problem. You will need to be patient—and not give up easily.
- Listen, encourage, share, and support. Sounds easy right? But it’s so hard. We provide further tips and resources in a previous post we wrote titled “How to Help a Friend in Need.”
- BTW, it's tough having a friend with addiction issues. So, if you need some support, visit: http://www.alanon.alateen.org/.
What To Say:
- Just telling your friend that you’re concerned can be a big help. Your friend may not want to talk about it, and the effects that drugs have on the brain may keep him or her from “hearing” you or acting on your advice.
- Assure your friend you are there for her and that she is not alone. People with drug problems often have gotten in with the wrong crowd—and they don’t want to turn away from these so-called friends for fear of being alone.
- Suggest that he or she speak to a trusted adult who will keep it confidential. Maybe there’s a family friend who could help.
- Turn to a professional for immediate help if the problem looks to be too big for you to handle alone, or if you’re worried your friend may have suicidal thoughts that she could act on.
- Use SAMHSA’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator or call 1–800–662–HELP to tap into a support network where you can find immediate and confidential help 24/7. They will also be able to direct you to local treatment options.
When the people we care about and have lots in common with make bad choices, it can be frustrating, confusing, and a little depressing. Still, we should be there for our friends, and also try to be a good role models for them by making smart choices ourselves.
ots of teens have questions about drugs. That’s why each year, NIDA scientists spend a day chatting online with high school students and answering their questions.
At NIDA’s last Drug Facts Chat Day, ham223 asked this question:
“What types of drugs are most used by high school students?”
According to NIDA’s Monitoring the Future Survey—which looks at the different drugs that teens are using—alcohol is number one (yes, it’s a drug), followed by tobacco and marijuana, which are pretty equal. Turns out, though, that not many teens are using most illegal drugs. The survey shows that in 2008, fewer than 1 in 6 10th graders reported that they used any illegal drug in the past month. And the numbers are still going down.
On Drug Facts Chat Day, we get thousands of questions about drugs from high school students all over the country. Today, we’re taking one from Casa Grande Union High School in Arizona:
Which drug is most addictive?
Let’s start with this basic truth—although some drugs are stronger or more powerful than others, all drugs are potentially dangerous. Each has a way of tapping into your brain’s pleasure circuitry and altering your physical or emotional state. And this means—Any of them can lead to abuse and addiction.
But what makes one drug more addictive than another has to do with a person’s environment (like stress, or friends who use drugs), the type of drug, and how much it’s used—even genes have a role in whether or not someone becomes addicted. Scientists have already identified a particular gene that makes some people more likely to become addicted to nicotine, the drug found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. All these factors affect the individual person in different ways, which is why everyone’s experience with drug addiction is unique.
Even so, some of the most intoxicating drugs out there will take fewer doses over a shorter period of time for many people to become addicted. This includes cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. And a high dose of a weaker drug taken more often over the same period of time could lead to addiction for some people as well. It’s a hard call to make in advance.